When I first got into music in middle school and high school, I didn’t ease myself in with classic rock and pop punk like my peers. I swan dove into the deep end with empty lungs and sank like a fucking stone to the grimy experimental bottom. I was into prog rock, slam, black metal, hardcore, and all kinds of nerdy, out-there stuff. For a time I was super into three bands in particular: Unexpect, Pin Up Went Down, and Diablo Swing Orchestra, all of whom I kept seeing referred to as “Avant-garde metal”. Wanting more, I literally just googled “List of avant-garde metal bands” and read until one caught my eye. That one was the ridiculously named Maximum the Hormone.
Putting that into YouTube (which was and still is how I discover a lot of music) got me the music video for “Bikini, Sports, Ponchin”, which at the time was the weirdest shit I had ever seen in my entire life.
Musically, its an odd beast. Its main riff is this kind of abstract, repetitive, dissonant, tapped or maybe hybrid picked nightmare of a guitar part, with layered screams and falsettos for vocals. As the song goes on there’s also a chunky death metal riff with slap bass and a bouncy hard rock chorus. And as I would find out later, this is one of their more sonically cohesive songs.
The video has occasional shots of the band performing but is mostly a stuttering collage of CG anatomical models and photographs of real people, vomiting their organs while in various states of undress. Its blatantly but bizarrely sexual in a way I’d never really encountered at the time. Suffice it to say they made an impact. I dove deep into their catalogue. They quickly became, and remain, one of my all time favorite bands.
But they’re not yours, right? I always feel like MtH gets the shit stick as far as recognition of their originality, and recognition in general, go. Thus I humbly request that you allow me to educate you on why they don’t get the respect the deserve, and why they deserve it.
The vast majority of discussion I see in western heavy music circles around Maximum the Hormone is framed by calling them either “The Japanese Slipknot” or “The Japanese System of a Down”. Those are reasonable comparisons but they do MTH a disservice by implying that they’re a copycat band. Maximum the Hormone come from a fundamentally different place musically and lyrically than either of those bands.
SOAD are overtly political and musically have always been a metal band. Their sound has not changed much over the years, always incorporating elements of progressive rock but firmly rooted in metal. Angsty teens Slipknot have always been a metal band too, although they’re coming at it from a more industrial/death metal kind of angle. Of course, the whole nu-metal scene is a huge part of what they’re both doing as well (moreso Slipknot in my opinion but I’m not here to split hairs and argue genres.)
Maximum the Hormone started life as a hardcore punk band, or at least deeply, inextriably influenced by punk. Japan has a huge and hugely influential punk scene (check out this article I wrote for Yatta-Tachi if you’re interested in learning more) and you can hear that influence in songs like Lost Crap Your Life from MtH’s first album ASA Crew. It was not until later that they became more aligned with nu-metal, but they have always retained elements of that punk rock/hardcore sound. To compare them to American bands is to ignore their uniquely Japanese origin.
Their Japanese-ness is another thing that tends to get them dismissed from serious discussion. As bands like Slipknot for example experimented less and less with their sound over time, Maximum the Hormone began to incorporate more and more disparate genres. They masterfully blend funk, J-pop, ska, deathcore, 80’s power balladry, rap, and more into their punk fundamentals. The smoothness with which they transition between multiple genres within one song is unbelievable, and something I aspire to in my own songwriting. But it often gets a “lol Japan, you so crazy” reaction from critics and nothing more. No serious discuss or appreciation. The fact that they are known in America mostly for doing an OP/ED for the Death Note anime (and an Air Master ED, but who gives a fuck about Air Master?) probably doesn’t help this. Death Note was quite popular when it was on Adult Swim, especially with the crowd in the much-reviled mid-2000’s emo thing that was going on. This made them even easier to dismiss out of hand.
Finally, if you get past all these barriers and actually dive into their music, you’ll find that their lyrics, when they make sense at all, are rarely about misery or politics. Instead, a lot of ’em are about fuckin’. Sometimes about aberrant or violent sex. The chorus of their song “Chu Chu Lovely Munimuni Muramura Purinpurin Boron Nurururerorero” consists entirely of Japanese onomatopoeia for various sexual acts. The rest of the lyrics, well, you can read them in the comments on the linked video, but you may not want to. I’m willing to give them all the benefit of the doubt that the illegal sex acts they sometimes sing about are, like all the murder in death metal lyrics, fiction. And the potential for lost nuance is high in translations sourced from a youtube comment, so there could be an element of criticism that doesn’t come across.
Sex is dope though so I don’t blame them for thinking about it. But in our weirdly prudish, decapitations-on-tv-are-fine-but-no-dicks-or-titties society, all this sexual content shuts the door on them for many people.
I wish it wouldn’t though! They’re worth your time for all kinds of reasons. Let me give you some examples. Unfortunately its become tough to find MtH content on YouTube that aren’t “lol Japan weird” reaction videos, so hopefully you have Spotify for some of these:
-Few bands can smash cut between genres like this and still, by some miracle, have it all sound like the same song. MtH’s newest song, “Korekara no men katakotteri no hanashi o shiyou” hits their usual rap metal and hardcore touchstones but also has the spazzy grind parts that they’ve been using more often lately, and funky disco breaks.
-Or “A.L.I.E.N”, which builds from noisy, widdly-diddly grindcore towards what should be a huge breakdown but undercuts all that tension by swapping the heavy riffs for a pop-rock singalong about the evils of illegal downloading, complete with dancing children.
-Find me another song that starts out as a nu metal song but turns into glammy Rick Springfield ass 80’s rock where the whole bands shouts the word VAGINA over and over. This one is called My Girl.
-Where other bands’ members may have signature guitar models or sponsored by energy drinks, beer, or clothing companies, Maximum the Hormone’s guitarist Ryo is sponsored by Tenga, makers of male masturbation toys. That’s hilarious, but also pretty innovative from a marketing and money-making perspective.
-MtH’s drummer Nao recently had her first child. She announced her pregnancy on the eve of a handful of festival dates. Instead of cancelling the dates, she just played them pregnant. That’s pretty badass. It’s worth mentioning that avant-garde metal as genre seems to be a haven for women in the metal scene. All three of the bands I mentioned at the top of the article are fronted by women. If you’re looking for women in the metal scene, look at the really experimental stuff.
-If you’re interested in finding out what specific bands infuenced Maximum the Hormone, here’s a translated interview with vocalist Daisuke where he mentions several well known and not so well know punk bands. The translator keeps calling them “japcore” bands which sounds pretty racist and probably isn’t what Japanese people would actually call them, but hopefully you can look past that long enough to read about some cool bands.
And here’s a blog that’s translating Maximum the Hormone lyrics into English, if you’re curious what they’re yelling about.
Also Ryo and Nao are brother and sister and I think that’s really good and cute. I like seeing families get along. And since I’ve mentioned every other member specifically at this point, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about their bassist, known as Ue-chan. He manages to use slapping in bassically all of their songs without it feeling show-offy or unecessary. He’s a critical part of their sound and a super underrated player. Find some live videos and watch him rip. Kind of interesting related note, he’s the only member of the band that never has lead vocal parts. The band having 3 potential lead vocalists (screams, male singing, and female singing) is pretty unique and adds a lot of possible textures and layers to their sound.
Anyway, check ’em out if you like punk, metal, and weird shit. They’re one of the most interesting bands going. Many of their older music videos haven been taken off YouTube for whatever reason, but you can find them all here, and it’s as good a place to start as any.
Thanks for reading!